Local Heart, Global Soul

May 14, 2011

Exploding the New Parent Secret: Part Two…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

This is a continuation of my post of yesterday, stemming from Matt’s post http://bythedarkofthemoon.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/day-mug/ and talking about one of the biggest secrets in Parenting,

Drawings and careful toy figure arrangements are from one of my artists in residence: namely, Little Mr.

Here in The Netherlands there is not only Kraamzorg but also a special community based organisation called the “Consultatiebureau”  that treats children from newborn until four years of age. Under the guidance of resident nurses and Doctors,  children are given regular checkups, immunizations, eye and hearing tests, their growth is monitored and developmental stages checked.

It’s also a safety-net opportunity for pediatricians and nurses to check for possible signs of neglect, malnutrition and possible abuse,  since they see all the local children on a regular basis and can access changes.

Himself and I spent weeks with a lactation specialist trying to get Kiwi Daughter to breastfeed. It was six excruciatingly long weeks of day and night trying until she “got it” and to say that Himself and I were exhausted  just doesn’t cover it.

After at least half an hour every feeding time trying to get her to take the breast, trying every technique the lactation specialist could offer, I would express milk, and we would use a myriad of syringes (sans needles of course) to squeeze milk inside her cheek.

Our biggest problem is that she knew she was hungry but she had no clue that she needed to swallow, so the whole feeding procedure took two adults to achieve. One of us would hold her and get her head into the right position. The other had the milk in the syringe and had to get it inside a cheek, the trick then was to rub her neck, by her windpipe to force the swallow reflex before the milk dribbled out the other side of her mouth.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

A few times it was slam dunk, Parents 1- 0, more times it was Baby 10, Parents 0, the rest of the time was somewhere in-between.

We would typically spend at least two hours trying to get a single feed into her and then once she was finally settled we would collapse (often fully clothed) on the bed for a sleep. Usually Kiwi Daughter was awake and hungry again about half an hour later since she had eaten so little.

For the first six weeks we slept in blocks of 20 minutes and were feint semblances of human beings.

Later when she was finally feeding it got somewhat better (at least by comparison), because feedings took between one and two hours (keeping her interested in the feed long enough to have eaten enough was a problem) and we graduated to sleeping in hourly, or on a very good day, two-hourly blocks at a time.

For the first year we were up, one of us or both, four times a night. We were so tired that sometimes all we wanted to do was cry.

Pressure was put on us since Kiwi Daughter was already below the band for “average” in the growth charts. At one point during the first months every visit to the Consultatiebureau showed her weight less than the last visit.

That resulted in being endlessly quizzed and demands to know our full feeding schedule, the home routine (we had a set routine as recommended for babies, the only one who didn’t stick to it was the baby) and sent us home with scales,  orders to weigh her daily and report back twice a week.

When Kiwi Daughter was three months old I went to a Mother and Baby meeting that the lactation specialist set up at her house. I was dog tired and didn’t really want to go. The specialist pushed me saying it would be good to get us out of the house.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Once there I listened to other mothers tell stories of how much their babies were growing, the rampant amounts some  babies ate, how a few of them even slept through the night, of picnics in the park  other “mummy” social events and generally how “good” their babies were. Listening to it all, I felt like I’d  failed utterly as a mother and burst into tears.

After I had somewhat recovered myself, and explained the feelings behind the waterworks, the conversation turned to how having a new baby in our life was not always a picture of sunshine and roses, no matter how much you loved them.

Himself and I waited long for Kiwi Daughter, so long that we were actually only a week away from our first IVF appointment when I discovered that I was pregnant, so “wanting her” was never, ever in any way the issue, but I was exhausted beyond sense and feeling that I was the only new mother managing so badly.

It was at this meeting that the lactation specialist let us into a secret… for every new mother joggling around the park and enjoying picnics,  all smiles, there is another one crying at home because their new bundle of joy is crying, again, for what seems like the five hundredth time in a morning after what’s been a short, rotten night already.

Teething, colic, cramps or maybe just because their baby is what the Dutch call a “huil baby” which literally means “cry baby” but in reality means they are plain and simple “screamers”.

Their nappies are changed, they are fed, played with, loved, but for whatever reason they just don’t settle and their parents are in a constant state of extreme tiredness. We don’t see these parents because they are too tired to go to the park, too tired to socialise and they cry alone behind closed doors, hidden and alone.

When they do have to go to work or get groceries, society demands that they do so with a smile, and when asked how new family life is that the reply is ” baby is fabulous thanks,  and how are your kids doing?…” because just as with heath issues, they know that many people aren’t really interested in the messier details.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The Big Secret is simply: Most parents of babies never let on how hard the going really is.

One mother of three confessed that  things were a doddle now with an “easy” baby, but she was so tired when her first child had colic that she fell sleep in the dentists chair, despite of the drill and a new filling in progress.

Get help” I hear you say… easier said than done in some cases. In my case my Mother in Law came to help and she said she wanted to do some ironing. Our ironing board cover was in such a state of disintegration that we hurriedly bought a new one and fitted it before she came.

I was busy changing Kiwi Daughter whilst MiL was busy folding towels when I smelt smoke… MiL for some unknown reason had assumed that our iron could be left on, face down on the ironing board between garments and had left it that way until the ironing board cover was smoking. I rescued it and put up with the iron shaped charred patch until we could afford a new cover later.

MiL also cuddled Kiwi Daughter for about 7 minutes until the baby started to cry, she then took bawling child to the bathroom door where I was busy having a shower and asked through the door if I could hurry out because the baby was crying. I rinsed as much shampoo out of my hair as possible, threw on clothes half wet and took Kiwi Daughter off her as she stood in the hallway.

My elderly MiL went and sat on the sofa announcing that “a cup of coffee might be nice”. There ended the sum total of the “help” and Himself and I decided that it was a far less stressful plan to continue going it alone.

The secret is that babies are hard hard work, we don’t begrudge them what we do, but we do wish sometimes that they would just sleep one extra hour once in a while when things are at their toughest and we are are our tiredest.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

When Himself and I finally realised that we had slept four hours in a row one night, it was like winning the lottery. We had turned a corner.

It took more than a year before each our kids slept though the night, and the first time each of them did, it was pure pure bliss.

The “Super-Woman” image that a lot of working women feel they have to live up to also has a lot to answer for.  We no longer live in villages surrounded by close relatives who all “raise the child” communally.

Most women work for economic necessity and not pleasure, “Life” is an overflowing suitcase where you are trying to constantly stuff everything in.

The Secret that the first years of your children’s life might well be the toughest and most tiring you can ever imagine is a well kept one, but I think we should start to explode the myth of 100% baby bliss  and serenity because often  parents going though those very tough times on very little sleep night, after night, after night, after night, after night, after night, after night,  feel too ashamed to ask for practical help and  feel like they are the only ones not living the picture-perfect new-parent life.

Better still, if you know someone with a new or even not-so-new baby, how about digging a little to find out how they really are and if it’s a rough patch be willings to baby-sit for free and tell them to go take an afternoon nap?

But… there is one more secret  that I need to tell you too, and like this post, it comes in two parts. Part One is:  no matter how hard it gets you still love you babies to bits and wouldn’t trade them for the world, and Part Two:  This is survivable. Once they sleep though the night  and they will, one day…(and you get to too) you will have more energy for the many new and different parenting challenges that lay ahead.

p.s. Kiwi Daughter not only survived her early weeks but eventually started to catch up. She’s now tall and skinny and despite still being under the recommended growth line, is very rarely sick and has energy to burn.  When our firstborn was 10 months old an Aunt in New Zealand helped disperse much of the guilt heaped on us by the very well meaning but rather overbearing Doctor in the  Consultatiebureau by saying “Kiwi Daughter is happy, active and everything you give her to eat is healthy, so, so what if she’s underweight? Someone has to be in the bottom 2%”. Wise words, and they helped us to not feel like parental failures.

May 13, 2011

The Secret that No-One mentions to new Parents: Part One…

Yesterday I read Matt’s post on the “Day Mug”  http://bythedarkofthemoon.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/day-mug/ and it resonated heavily with our experiences. So this is Part One of a two-part post about one of the best-kept secrets that many new  parents feel that they have to keep quietly to themselves.

In this post I aim to tell you some background… set the stage so that tomorrows post makes sense. (humour me hey?)

Ten years ago  Kiwi Daughter was born, slightly premature after a 15 hour labour, and during the routine tests they discovered that she didn’t have a suck reflex and that she was rather listless.  A baby should start sucking once a finger is put into their mouth, my little one didn’t do anything expect look sleepy and surprised.

We had the Rhesus factor to contend with during the pregnancy because although Kiwi Daughter was my first born child she wasn’t our first pregnancy, having lost two previous  to miscarriage. It was decided not to take any risks and I was given anti-D injections several times during pregnancy to prevent my O Negative blood type and immune system  from thinking that my A Positive baby was an unwelcome intruder within my being.

(photograph © Kiwidutch) (Parental permission obtained)

Kiwi Daughter was born in the early evening, listless and sleepy looking and blood tests revealed hemoglobin levels where they definitely shouldn’t be and some other blood level abnormalities and since it wasn’t completely clear if somehow it could have been possible that my blood had contaminated the readings, she was whisked away to a neonatal ICU for more complex observations and care.

They sprinkled her with water to wake her up, to no avail, several times they could only wake her when they did yet another heel prick blood test. This was more floppy than deep sleeping and they were concerned.

Her interest in food was zero,  and with severe asthma, eczema and  long lists of allergies in both sides of our family I was desperate to breastfeed but she wasn’t having it. It’s completely normal that some babies need to learn how to feed and that it takes some practice but Kiwi Daughters level of disinterest raised the level of concern, so a tube was inserted into her nose and she was fed expressed breast milk through that.

On the second day  she was similarly un-alert and inactive so they decided to do even more tests: putting a little tube into her stomach and taking  a sample of what was there.

To their surprise her stomach was full of meconium, the blackish muck that babies are supposed to poop out after birth. It was an extremely distressing process for both of us as they pumped her stomach to get rid of it, but it was clear that she started to do a bit better after it was done.

We spent a week in hospital together but then she was deemed good enough to go home.  We took a bag of gadgets with is to help feed her and the hospital check-ups, the Cat scan and blood tests continued for almost a year afterwards and her condition was closely monitored.

The Dutch system is that when you have a baby,  that it’s normal to have it at home, in the care of a midwife. You may elect to have your baby in Hospital, but you may not elect to have a C-section. Those are reserved for high risk deliveries only and the medical staff get to decide who is or isn’t high (enough) risk.

Epidural’s are also not  available as a matter of course,  in fact I have know some friends who asked for them during labour and were flatly refused. Some Gynes and some hospitals are far more sympathetic on the epidural issue so expectant mothers may find it wise to “shop around”.

If you are deemed “medical”  for various reasons then you will be immediately denied a home birth as too high risk and your Gynecologist will usually outline the planned care needed for the birth,  per your other medical needs.

I was a “medical” because I have chemical lung damage  from a previous occupation and severe asthma,  My Gyne and Lung Specialist are in the same hospital and needed to work closely together concerning medications and the planning of the delivery. I didn’t need to ask for an epidural, it was deemed essential to reduce stress on my lungs if I wanted to try for a natural birth. We needed to avoid a general anesthetic at all costs if possible since this is very bad news for my lung condition.

I was a patient at the hospital for the same week  my baby was too because they needed to see lung function stabilization after the delivery (I usually take steroids for my condition and was naturally on different, baby safe, but less reliable medication whilst I was pregnant and breast feeding).

Regardless if you have your baby at home or in hospital,  the Dutch system also allows for “Kraamzorg“. This is pre-arranged and after your baby arrives the Kraamzorg lady is notified and arrives too. Often you if delivered in Hospital, she will actually be waiting on your doorstep ready for you when you arrive home from the hospital.

She is a fully trained professional baby nurse and she will teach you how to bath your newborn at home, how to make their bed, how to make a schedule for the day and night, help get you started with breastfeeding, teach you how to change a nappy and  is a font of tips and tricks concerning everything Baby .

She regulates when your visitors arrive, kicks them out when they have stayed too long and are tiring you out, and sends you for a short nap every afternoon whilst she attends to your child and organizes a home visit for the midwife to check stitches and the mother’s general recovery after delivery.

She often peels veggies for an evening meal, stuffs a load of laundry in the washer,  makes the coffee for your visitors during  your home “visiting hour”,  and generally helps you on the initial steep learning curve that a newborn baby presents.

You don’t get to choose who turns up as your Kraamzorg, but ours was so brilliant with difficult Kiwi Daughter that we did an awful lot of string-pulling to try and get her back for the birth of our second child four years later, and by a stroke of luck succeeded. In fact we still keep in touch and she visits semi-regularly as a friend.

The Kraamzorg lady isn’t however your cleaning lady or maid… she’s there for the Mother and Baby and to settle you in to a good start at home, to equip you with some skills for going it alone. Depending on the plan you sign up to, she stays for between 2 and 6 days and then you and your spouse are alone with your little bundle of  joy,  learning to get to know one another and manage on your own.

In our case Kiwi Daughter’s rocky start in the hospital was just the beginning, and our amazing Kraamzorg helped brilliantly as we made the transition from hospital to home, but when in due course she left, the true magnitude of the  “secret” came to hit us right between the eyes…

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